The Heart of the Issue - 5

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Deconstructing some odd, inaccurate arguments

In previous posts in this series, I wrote about the possibility of an organized campaign, speaking out in defence of Premier Danny Williamss health care choices.

One telling point is the similarity of the message track in the calls to Open Line and CBC Radio, and, to some degree, online comments and letters to the editor. It was as if people were choosing their favourite points from a list of prepared messages.

Yes, it is possible that people came up with these bugbears on their own, possibly by hearing previous callers say similar things. However, many of the talking points were ridiculous, featuring complaints based on twisted logic or inaccurate assumptions.

Lets address some of those talking points now, shall we? Most of the following are gleaned from local calls made on February 2 and 3, in the early hours of this story, with calls directed at local media and in some cases, specific local shows or hosts.

The premier has every right to pay for his own health care and more power to him.

Most callers opened with a line like this, the implication being that someone had said the premier didn't have this right. However, I dont recall hearing anyone in this province make such a claim. In the early hours, there were questions asked about the specific nature of the heart surgery, and why that surgery couldnt be performed here. No local reporters or commentators said Williams did not have this right.

We all have a right to our privacy, and the premier does too.

Yes, as private individuals, we have a right to privacy. However, public figures are, by definition, public and have a lowered expectation of privacy. That said, they can still be accorded some degree of privacy, especially in the close-knit society we enjoy here in Newfoundland and Labrador. For example, if the premier obtained health care in this province, there would be no public policy issues just a public concern for the premiers health, which he could address as he pleased. However, the premier is custodian of the provinces health care system, a system he has been forced to defend, so his decision to seek care elsewhere raises two valid questions: what is the necessary procedure, and why cant it be done here? He has every right to not answer the question, just as we have the right to ask.

I am very upset by the aggressive way the media is covering this story.

The local media was not aggressive on this story. However, some national and international media were quite forceful and often inaccurate with their coverage. The attacks by private citizens on local media, on the other hand, were quite aggressive. There was no reason and no need to gang up on local media.

If Danny had his surgery in Newfoundland, or even in Canada, he would be accused of skipping the line.

No doubt, this would require some public education on the nature of wait lists for cardiac surgery. That is, the line is not fixed. People move up all the time, based on the urgency of their situation. However, this is a non-issue anyway a decoy. By arguing this point, callers were suggesting that someone holds the contrary view. I dont recall any media person, or Open Line caller, suggest that the premier should have his surgery here.

By going to the U.S., Danny is freeing up a hospital bed for someone else in this province or country.

And the person who steals all the food at the grocery store is preventing obese people from getting fatter. Whatever. This is where we get into silly and awkward twists of logic and another decoy issue, because no one in this province suggested Danny shouldnt get his care elsewhere.

If the surgery had been done here, the premier would not receive the quiet he needs to recover. Thered be media outside the hospital, even cameras peeking in the window.

This is another decoy, indirectly defending the premiers decision to seek medical care elsewhere (a right that wasnt challenged). Also, its wrong. The media in this province are respectful and would not attempt to crash his hospital room.

If the premier had offered more detail, it would have created a media feeding frenzy for more and more information.

The opposite is true. Two scraps of information the type of procedure and why its being done elsewhere would have stalled the story, not given it legs. National and international media were ratcheting up this story because of the irony the person responsible for health care going elsewhere for medical care so some clear facts at the outset might have forestalled such questioning and commentary.

The premier deserves our support. He works hard and doesnt even take a salary!

This one has been repeated by a lot of people, including Deputy Premier Dunderdale. And it is perhaps the most offensive line of all. As a multi-millionaire, the premiers salary is a drop in the bucket he is not sacrificing anything. And if people are going to roll out this pitiful excuse every time the premier comes under fire, I say take the salary. PLEASE! Our right to ask tough questions is not for sale, especially for a paltry $140,000 a year.

Its not faith in health care thats been shaken here, its faith in the media.

This came straight from the mouth of Minister Tom Hedderson, and its another decoy. Can anyone produce a local media report that claims our faith in health care has been shaken by this story? Media asked relevant, respectful questions when this story broke, and subsequent commentary focused on the need for more specific information.

The Opposition are being cold, heartless and opportunistic, criticizing the premier at this difficult time.

A version of this line was also repeated by Hedderson, but its a blatant lie, really. Go listen to what Yvonne Jones said. See if you dont agree.

People have made threats over the years on Dannys life. If he had the surgery here, someone might try to hurt him while under anesthetic, on the operating table.

Yeah, I only heard this jawdropper once, on VOCM Open Line. It was not a sanctioned talking point, if such a thing exists. But it was an example of how extreme the commentary became, at times.

There is a bizarre irony here. The biggest source of commentary on this issue came from the many callers and commenters who gave voice to the talking points above. If these people hadnt crowded the phone lines en masse, the story would have grown quiet, at the local level, almost immediately. With no new information forthcoming, media would have waited for updates from the Williams camp.

In at least one instance, callers efforts backfired when their vitriol was picked up from Radio Noon and rebroadcast on CBC Radios As it Happens. The attacks on free speech were heard across the country, on public radio in the United States and around the world on shortwave.

Thats one example.

But it can be safely said that most of the airtime devoted to the story in this province was filled by the people who were complaining about the story. In other words, they were the ones giving the story such a high profile. They owe themselves a big round of applause.

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